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  • Writer's pictureRay Sanford

The Tomato Story

This is a story by Ernesto Sirolli about learning how to do International projects. You can watch his TED talk HERE.

The lessons are similar to what many Rotarians and Peace Corps volunteers have learned.


Our first project was a project where we Italians decided to teach Zambian people how to grow food.

We arrived there with Italian seeds in southern Zambia in this absolutely magnificent valley going down to the Zambezi River, and we taught the local people how to grow Italian tomatoes and zucchini and of course the local people had absolutely no interest in doing that, so we paid them to come and work, and sometimes they would show up.

We were amazed that the local people, in such a fertile valley, would not have any agriculture.

But instead of asking them how come they were not growing anything, we simply said, “Thank God we’re here.” “Just in the nick of time to save the Zambian people from starvation.”

And of course, everything in Africa grew beautifully. We had these magnificent tomatoes. In Zambia, a tomato would grow to twice the size of what we could grow in Italy.

And we could not believe, and we were telling the Zambians,“Look how easy agriculture is.” When the tomatoes were nice and ripe and red, overnight, some 200 hippos came out from the river and they ate everything.

And we said to the Zambians, “My God, the hippos!”

And the Zambians said, “Yes, that’s why we have no agriculture here.”

“Why didn’t you tell us?”

“You never asked.”


When the Peace Corps was founded, there were many volunteers who brought their own lofty ideas of how villages, customs and projects could provide a better life. Many found out the hard way there was an untapped storehouse of wisdom in the local people.

The best lesson I've learned by meeting Rotarians from other countries and doing international projects is that, by and large, we are all alike.

We want the same things – a better life for our children and their children. And an opportunity for peace and prosperity.

We just need to listen.

2 commentaires

22 juil. 2023

This is such a amazing concept!!! I love it, I believe it and I have found it to be true.

Thank you so much for not only sharing truth but I the marketing behind it and drawing people to your website. Brilliant!!! Kudos where they are deserved.


22 juil. 2023


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